A brief submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the self-proclaimed East Turkistan government in exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement states that Chinese officials in foreign countries are creating visa problems for Uyghurs as well as coercing them into becoming Beijing’s informants.
The brief expects the ICC to conduct an investigation into China’s human rights abuses and forced exile of Uyghurs living abroad. The complaint includes testimonies from Uyghurs who have been subjected to such forced deportations from Tajikistan, a country that is a signatory to the ICC.
This is the third brief submitted to the ICC on the plight of Uyghurs. Previous complaints were rejected by the court since China is not a signatory and was thus outside the jurisdiction of the ICC. The court had left matters undecided and asked for more evidence on the issue.
“They can give evidence directly to the ICC about how [Chinese officials] would focus their strategies on coming into Tajikistan and getting Uyghurs detained, arrested and deported out,” said the lead lawyer for the group, Rodney Dixon QC.
“So it’s first-hand testimony from witnesses who are now accessible to the ICC to be interviewed, about how Chinese officers are operating on Tajikistan soil.”
Witnesses in Tajikistan accused officials of threatening people to get them to work with them or be informers, and creating “problems with visas and paperwork”.
“They created a legal problem, and then used that to arrest people and ship them out in small numbers so it’s not noticeable,” said Dixon, adding that family members of people who tried to speak out were also targeted.
The group said one witness had provided “cogent evidence” of officials running tactics from late 2016 in Kyrgyzstan, including visa iproblems, Uyghurs receiving phone calls from relatives in China “begging them to go back”, and local police cooperating with Chinese consulate requests to take Uyghurs to the border where they were then deported by Chinese agents.
“This is very strong cogent evidence the ICC has access to. It’s not theoretical. They can investigate this,” said Dixon.
The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim Turkic-speaking ethnic group, primarily from China’s north-western region of Xinjiang, who have been subjected to religious and ethnic persecution by Chinese authorities. About 1-1.5 million Uyghur are estimated to live overseas as a diaspora.
The complainants said the new evidence, gathered through on-the-ground interviews in central Asia and Turkey, revealed that the Uyghur population in Tajikistan decreased by more than 85% and in Kyrgyzstan by 87% as a result of forced deportations.
The previous submission had included accounts of deportations in Tajikistan, but was dismissed because the ICC found that most of the crimes alleged appeared to have been committed by Chinese nationals in China.
It said in its annual report at the time that there was “no basis to proceed” on separate claims of forced deportations from Tajikistan and Cambodia, despite both countries being ICC members and therefore within its jurisdiction.
“The office observes that while the transfers of persons from Cambodia and Tajikistan to China appear to raise concerns with respect to their conformity with national and international law, including international human rights law and international refugee law, it does not appear that such conduct would amount to the crime against humanity,” the report said.
In the time since the first submission, international condemnation of China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang has escalated. In January the US state department formally declared the treatment of Uyghurs to be an attempted genocide, soon followed by similar motions passed in the parliaments of Canada and the Netherlands.
Legal and human rights groups have found Chinese authorities to be committing crimes against humanity and breaching every article of the UN’s genocide convention.
Beijing rejects all accusations and says its policies, including the mass detention network it says includes vocational training centres, are anti-terrorism or anti-poverty efforts. (Source: The Guardian)